In spite of the appearances of perpetual chaos that the success of a motion of no-confidence against former Prime Minister Imran Khan had unleashed all across the country, the National Assembly preferred to hold a sitting Monday noon, as per the schedule. Without a substantial agenda to deal with the sitting was still held, perhaps to generate the business-as-usual feeling.
But the exhaustive and bombastic speech, Khawaja Asif of the PML-N had delivered since switching to government benches, also made one to presume that the Shehbaz government was now determined to push back the defiant message, Imran Khan has ceaselessly been promoting since being voted out by the national assembly on April 9, 2022.
To the incurable cynic in me, however, the whole exercise looked incredibly absurd. Doubly so, if you consider the reality that the most populous province of Pakistan, Punjab, is still being run without a Chief Executive. Usman Buzdar, the former chief minister, had resigned more than two weeks ago. The PTI failed to prop Chaudhry Parvez Elahi in place of him and lost the battle to Hamza Shehbaz after unprecedented bedlam in the Punjab Assembly. But the PTI-nominated Governor of Punjab, Umar Sarfraz Cheema, is yet not willing to take oath from the younger Sharif.
As if the administrative paralysis in the most populous province of Pakistan were not enough to frighten you, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also failed to quickly select people for his cabinet. The delay certainly transmitted the message that political parties, ganging up to topple Imran Khan, were now feeling rudderless. Many Pakistanis even preferred to imagine that after removing the Imran government, its opponents have begun to drift. They also have started to fight for grabbing lucrative ministries.
Shehbaz Sharif was all set to scuttle the feeling of drift by announcing the federal cabinet, when I started punching this column. After listening to more than a score of credible sources during the past three days, I can safely predict that he might succeed in communicating the message of unity, with the team he eventually selects for the federal cabinet by Monday evening.
Noor Alam, one of the rebels from within Imran Khan’s party, also took the floor Monday afternoon to defend his conduct with an emotional speech. Some diehard fans of the former prime minister were often found bullying him like a mob. His family in Peshawar felt insecure and he was often provoked to physically sort it out while appearing at public places in Islamabad.
Notwithstanding the personal dilemma of Noor Alam, I feel forced to write that the Shehbaz government is now determined to adopt an aggressive strategy with clear intent of pushing Imran Khan to a defensive corner. It primarily aims at demolishing what the government strongly feels is a “cunningly crafted myth,” projecting Imran Khan as the most pious and cleanest “outsider” to “dirty games” of politics in our country.
Already, the stories of expensive and rare gifts he had received from foreign dignitaries while being the Prime Minister of Pakistan had caused some damage to his reputation as “Mr. Clean.” Now the government has begun to reveal details of the funds and donations, he continued receiving from “foreign sources” since switching to full time politics in 1996, after spending many years as the celebrity cricketer turned into a dedicated philanthropist.
It is very difficult to correctly imagine the impact of damage, such details can possibly cause to his reputation. Our society has deeply polarised and with his populist narrative and stance Imran Khan continues to deepen the divide. In a polarised environment, the majority of people don’t trust the government promoted narrative. Facts become irrelevant; “alternate facts” replace them.
Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947 all the successive governments, elected or otherwise, have also been perceived for being ruthlessly vindictive to their opponents and critics. After drumming up allegations of corruption against Imran Khan and his party, the Shehbaz government has to take the prosecution-route. That will surely lead to arrests and a truckload of court cases.
From day one of taking over in August 2018, Imran Khan also had incessantly chased his critics and opponents with the same strategy. A large number of opposition leaders spent chilling long months in investigative cells and jails. A non-stop barrage of reputation-demolishing stories, slavishly promoted by the controlled media, also targeted them. Yet most of the opposition leaders eventually ended up being perceived as “victims of a spiteful government” by their supporters. History can also repeat itself in the case of Imran Khan and his party.
In addition to the allegations of corruption and money laundering etc., Imran Khan can annoy and alienate some key pillars of our state as well, by firmly sticking to the story that these were not the opposition parties who joined hands to get rid of him, on their own. The real cause of his fall was the “independent foreign policy” he had tried to pursue as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He challenged the American dominance and provoked “threats” from Washington, formally conveyed through an Under Secretary of the US State Department during a meeting Pakistan’s Ambassador had with him on March 7, 2022.
Addressing a series of public rallies after his removal from the Prime Minister’s Office, Imran Khan has almost been explicit in promoting the feeling that the national security outfits of Pakistan refused to stand by him to protect “national honour.” Some of his remarks during the same rallies also questioned the independence of our judiciary.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan had already ruled that “unconstitutional” means were adopted to block the count on no-confidence motion put against him in the national assembly of Pakistan. Yet, both the previous Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly refused to go for it, when the Supreme Court clearly asked for it. The defiance they had demonstrated visibly made them vulnerable to serious charges of attempting to subvert and violate the Constitution. Imran Khan can also be found as the “main instigator of the constitutional crimes” presumably committed by Asad Qaisar and Qasim Suri.
Being a devoted loyalist of Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi could also not keep himself above the fray. He preferred to prove his loyalty by refusing to take oath from Shehbaz Sharif, after his election as the prime minister by the national assembly. The PTI-nominated Governor of Punjab has adopted the same stance vis-à-vis Hamza Shehbaz.
I seriously wonder for how long Imran Khan and his diehard loyalists could sustain the apparently reckless and audacious disregard of the Constitution and parliamentary practices.